"Our Department’s performance compares favourably with that of other jurisdictions," Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told his party colleague, Cathal Ó hOisín, in the Northern Ireland Assembly back in March, when asked about timeliness of responses to Freedom of Information requests. It turns out he was being economical with the truth - on a scale that would put Scrooge to shame.
The Minister pointed out that the Welsh Government responded to just 75% of requests on time, while both the Scottish Government and Whitehall managed just 84%. He compared these to the response rate of 88% for his department.
This sounds impressive - until you delve into the details. The 88% statistic relates to the entire period from 2005 to 2010. When Mr Ó hOisín asked for a more recent update, the Minister simply ignored this. It's not hard to see why: the statistics for 2011 are, quite frankly, disgraceful. The OFMDFM Annual Report on Freedom of Information shows that, of 168 requests received, just 70 were answered on time. That's a total of 42%. What's more, 18 requests - 11% of the total, are listed as 'still being processed'.The report is undated, but appears to have been published in October this year.
This is an astonishingly poor performance from the Department. Not only were almost three out of five requests were not answered in time, but more than one in ten requests were still unanswered ten months after the end of the year.
Maybe on Planet McGuinness that counts as a favourable response rate. Not anywhere else.
(For background to this, see my previous entry)
Update: on the same day as this was posted, the Information Commissioner's Office announced that the FOI performance of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be monitored by them.